President Neil Grabois (left) recognized Van Smith's contributions to Colgate with an honorary degree awarded at commencement. Smith, Class of '50, retires as chairman emeritus of the Colgate Board of Trustees.
by Marian Blanchard
The gavel has been passed. Van Smith '50, a member of Colgate's Board of Trustees since 1985 and its chairman since 1991, was elected chairman emeritus at the board's May meeting when Wm. Brian Little '64 was elevated from vice chairman to the chair.
Smith, who was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the May 19 commencement, is representative of Colgate's goal of preparing students for leadership. Beginning with his undergraduate years, when he was president of his fraternity (Theta Chi), then on to an Air Force commission, and ultimately to the chairmanship of a national company and the 37-million-member American Automobile Association, Van Smith has been a leader in business, education, government, politics and nonprofit agencies.
In awarding Smith the honorary degree, Colgate President Neil Grabois referred to the "strength and quality" of Smith's leadership of the Colgate board, saying, "What we are today -- which is one of the premiere liberal arts institutions in the land -- is due in large measure to your wisdom and guidance."
No less a leader is Brian Little, past national chairman of Campaign Colgate, the $130 million capital campaign. Here, too, he followed Van Smith, for it was Smith who was the first chair of Colgate's largest ever campaign at its outset in 1992. (John Golden '66 succeeds Little for the completion of the campaign.)
Little, now a private investor, was a founding general partner of Forstmann Little & Company, the New York investment firm that provided investors with solid returns while specializing in management buyouts. The company has a sterling reputation for its accomplishments and integrity.
Wm. Brian Little '64 succeeds Van Smith as chairman of the university's Board of Trustees. Little is shown at commencement with the internationally known operatic soprano Jessye Norman, who received an honorary degree.
Both men have left their mark on the Colgate campus. Smith was a member of the
Trustees' Special Committee on Residential Life, which established new
standards for students living on campus
and in fraternities and sororities.
Little was the principal donor of the fitness center, which transformed the old
Huntington Gymnasium pool into a three-level physical conditioning facility
that is a boon to the campus community as well as Colgate athletes.
A native of nearby Oneida, Van Smith earned his law degree at Georgetown Law
School in 1955 after serving with the Air Force in the United States and Europe
for three years. A year later he became one of the founders of Ontario
Corporation in Muncie, Indiana. But being the head of a large multifaceted
corporation was not enough for Smith, who has chaired the Chamber of Commerce
the United States as well as the American Automobile Association. He has been a
director of several Indiana-based corporations and insurance companies, a
partner in Muncie air charter, clothing and land development businesses, and
president of the Forging Industry Association.
By presidential appointment he was a member of an observation team in the 1986 Philippine national election, and of the 1984 trade mission to China, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Early in his career he was a member of the Indiana House of Representatives and he later chaired the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.
Politics, too, has provided Smith with leadership roles. He has been a delegate to every Republican National Convention since 1976 and every Indiana Republican State Convention since 1964.
A trustee of Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Smith has been awarded honorary degrees by Ball State, Vincennes and Indiana State universities, as well as Colgate. His fifth child, son Victor, is a 1990 graduate of Colgate. Brian Little, with a 1967 MBA from Harvard University Graduate School of Business, joined the investment banking departments of White, Weld & Company, and continued with the merged Merrill Lynch White Weld, concentrating on mergers and acquisitions and new business development.
It was in 1978, just as the business of leveraged buyouts was beginning to evolve, that he joined Ted and Nick Forstmann in founding the investment firm that bears their names. He found challenge and excitement in acting as a principal in the buying and selling of a variety of companies -- from Topps Chewing Gum (baseball cards) and Dr Pepper to Midland Ross Corporation -- all the time in the best interests of shareholders and investors.
In addition to serving on numerous corporate boards of directors, Little is a trustee of St. Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital, a founder of Citizens For America, a director of the Harvard Business School Club of New York, and a trustee of the Bridgehampton Music Festival.
Coming to Colgate as a sophomore transfer from the University of Vermont, he was a political science concentrator, a member of the senate, and an officer of Sigma Nu.
As a university trustee since 1987, Little has been particularly interested in fundraising and the investment of Colgate's endowment. His personal life outside of business and boardrooms includes a lot of physical activity -- bicycling, skiing, windsurfing, marathons, even triathlons. Reading, photography and stamp collecting are also among his interests and activities. "Colgate is fortunate to have among its graduates many men and women who are leaders in business, government and community affairs. Van Smith and Brian Little have distinguished themselves and brought honor to their alma mater," noted President Grabois. "To have such men at the helm of the university's governing body assures Colgate's place among the nation's top liberal arts colleges."